Somebody’s Watching You, But Who’s Watching Them? Welcome to the Weird World of the Stalkers of Celebrity Stalkers
Montecito’s Unique Stalker of Celebrity Stalkers Catch and Release
The Montecito Journal’s investigation into the shadowy world of the stalkers who stalk celebrity stalkers began, in more ways than one, with a simple cup of coffee. On a weekday afternoon in mid-October, a Journal editor was about to leave a local coffee shop when he noticed what appeared to be a heated argument between a pair of middle-aged men in the parking lot.
Soon after, the police arrived and after further conversation between the two men and the officers, the cops handcuffed one of the men, a paunchy, crew cut character wearing a t-shirt, athletic shorts and rubber sandals, and promptly took him into custody. After the cops drove off, our editor did what any enterprising journalist would do and approached the unapprehended man and asked him what had just happened. “Who exactly do you work for?” the man, a fifty-something, fit-looking fellow, warily responded.
When our editor identified himself, the man told him he was a retired cop and private detective who had been hired by the security service of a local celebrity to intercept a stalker that had recently arrived in town with the apparent intention of making personal contact. The stalker of stalkers gave our editor his name and number and agreed to be interviewed for this story so long as we withheld his name and identifying information, as well as the names of his clients and the identity of the stalker he was stalking.
Two days later, I met at the same coffee shop with the detective, who asked to be identified only by his somewhat fanciful nom de plume, James X. Falconstone, which he invented for his recently self-published memoir concerning his three-decade career as a former prison guard, inmate firefighter administrator, and state parole officer, a volume which was recently optioned by Hollywood for a possible TV series based on his exploits.
Because the stalker of stalkers occasionally assumes fictional identities in his line of work – for example, he often poses as the boyfriend or out-of-town relative of a female client who is being harassed by neighbors or ex-boyfriends – Falconstone explained that it was imperative that this article not include any photographs of him or any compromising details about his physical likeness. The Journal also agreed not to identify the place of our first encounter or other key locations in this story for confidentiality reasons.
Falconstone and his Falcons
According to Falconstone, the man who had been arrested at the Montecito coffee shop two days before I met him, while not a registered sex offender, did have a prior conviction for indecent exposure at a beach on the East Coast, and had only avoided sex offender classification by agreeing to a plea bargain. The charge was a few years old, however, and the man was no longer on parole, so after viewing an Instagram photograph of a particular Montecito celebrity walking out the door of the coffee shop in question, the man had elected to drive himself all the way across the country, hoping to make the acquaintance of the object of his obsession.
How Falconstone got on the case in the first place has everything to do with the bizarre pathology of celebrity stalking. As it turns out, another private detective who, unlike the more low-key Falconstone, is listed in Santa Barbara’s public telephone directory, had actually received a call from the stalker himself, who had asked for his help in tracking down the celebrity in question. “My friend told me the guy wanted to pay him to find my client,” Falconstone explained, laughing at the absurdity.
Montecito: Where Public People Go to Be Private, But Somewhat Publicly
It’s an unspoken but very real part of life in a celebrity-rich community such as Montecito: All those famous people, whether they be Hollywood luminaries, captains of industry, house-flipping talk show hosts, or recently-relocated British royals, inevitably attract an outsized amount of attention.
Aside from the predictable cadre of tourists who flock to our fair town with the hope of witnessing a famous person sipping a latte at Pierre Lafond Market or enjoying a quiet meal at the Honor Bar, Montecito also has its share of telescopic lens-toting photographers, says Montecito Journal gossip columnist Richard Mineards, who boasts decades of experience covering Santa Barbara’s celebrity community. “The ‘snapperazzi’ whom I have dealt with over the years may be a nuisance, but are not normally threatening,” he says. “They are just determined to get the unique celebrity shot (for which they will presumably be well rewarded) and then leave you alone.”
According to Mineards, the lion’s share of celebrity-seeking in Montecito is strictly commercial i.e. transactional. “There are obviously a number of intrepid shutterbugs in our rarefied enclave given the continuing flow of photos in British national newspapers and the U.S. celebrity glossies of bold-faced names like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle dining at Lucky’s, or Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Orlando Bloom, and Katy Perry shopping in our Eden by the Beach or picking up their java jolts at places like Merci Montecito.”
Because so many celebrity-driven publications pay well for exclusive celebrity photographs, veteran photographers often go to extreme lengths to win the perfect shot. “I remember one tabloid paparazzo disguised himself as a sheep at Neverland, Michael Jackson’s estate, when the Wizard of Odd tied the knot with Lisa Marie Presley,” recalls Mineards.
Sadly Not All Stalkers Are as Harmless as Sheep
Unfortunately, some local celeb stalkers are more like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And sometimes they’re just wolves in wolves’ clothing. More than out to make a quick buck, these are folks who suffer from the delusion they have a spiritual relationship with a particular celebrity they’ve never met, and who arrive here with the express goal of cementing that bond by any means necessary.
It’s a very real phenomenon with its own particular pathology, says Cooper Lawrence, a New York-based psychologist, radio host, and bestselling author (most recently of Celebritocracy) who specializes in celebrity stalking. “Psychologists define the basic pathology of any stalking behaviors, celebrity or otherwise, as unwanted and intrusive behavior that cause the target to feel unsafe and distressed,” Lawrence says. “Celebrity stalking is a bit of a different animal because of the attention seeking behaviors built into celebrity jobs with social media posts and TV appearances, for example, all designed to elicit attention, promote themselves and to generally court the public.”
Advantage to the Stalker: The Constitutional Right to Face One’s Accuser
Unfortunately for the notables being stalked, an important tool stalkers have in their toolbox is the 6th Amendment to the Constitution aka the “Confrontation Clause” otherwise known as the “right to face one’s accuser.” What this means is that if a celeb files a case against a stalker, that stalker then has the right to face their accuser in a court of law. Which helps the stalker get exactly where they want to be: in the same room as their fixation and locked in a drama with them.
The recent rise of social media has only exacerbated the phenomenon, argues Cooper Lawrence. “Social media and a 24-hour news cycle have made information about a celebrity’s life more accessible,” she explains. “When they buy a new house, we know where it is. When they’re on vacation with their family, we know where they are.” Thus, in a perverse way, social media has the unintended function of promoting a particular psychological phenomena that Lawrence calls the “illusion of intimacy.”
“This idea explains our fun connection to our favorite celebrity as well as the unhealthy ones by a person with mental illness,” Lawrence says, “Because we know so much about a celebrity we feel super connected to them.” Instagram, in particular, can make people feel that celebrities are speaking directly to them, because, in many cases, that’s exactly what celebrities are doing.
“Since they are talking directly to us, we have the illusion that we know them,” she continues, adding that the growing trend of celebrities to share intimate details about their lives completes the pathological equation in the minds of both the straightforward fan and the celebrity stalker. “As a result, we know who has had everything from a drug problem, a secret marriage, or a miscarriage to a zit, dry eyes, or a penchant for beekeeping,” concludes Lawrence. “The more relatable, the more we have bonded with our favorite star and the more we feel this intimate connection.”
If at First You Don’t Succeed
When Falconstone first confronted the celebrity stalker at the Montecito coffee shop parking lot, his primary aim was to stall the man until the cops, whom he’d already notified, could arrive. His secondary objective was to talk to the suspected stalker and get as much information and potential evidence out of him as possible.
“I told the guy I knew why he was in town and that I knew he’d been arrested three years ago for indecent exposure,” Falconstone said. The man was intrigued that Falconstone knew this, and began talking nonstop, explaining that the arrest was all a misunderstanding and that he worked directly for Jesus Christ himself and was in town to discuss some urgent spiritual business with Falconstone’s celebrity client.* (*As of press time, Jesus Christ was unavailable for comment due to commitments elsewhere.) During the chat, after Falconstone (with no intention of actually doing so) agreed to talk to his client about the man’s proposal, he agreed to allow the police to search his vehicle.
“The car was full of weird stuff, said Falconstone, including two rubber masks on the front passenger seat, one of [U.S. President Donald] Trump and one of Batman.” Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything actually illegal inside the car. “We searched him and his property head to toe, but didn’t find anything,” said Falconstone. “We were hoping to get him on a DUI, or possession of drugs or a weapon, but we didn’t find any of that.”
Still, Falconstone considered the arrest a success. “I felt good about it, and so did my client,” he elaborated. “We got him booked, cited, and released, we had his fingerprints and a local picture of him, and now I could call my buddies in law enforcement and let them know he was in their jurisdiction.”
Always One Step Ahead
During our initial interview, Falconstone described to me a few tricks of his trade, extra-legal methods he’d perfected over his years as a private detective who often works in tandem with law enforcement, but tactics he would never have used when he was still a cop. For example, impersonating people and lying to people in order to get them to cooperate with his client’s wishes.
Once, when an Armenian-American landlord asked Falconstone to scare away the proprietor of what turned out to be an illegal marijuana shop that had opened a storefront on the man’s L.A. County building, Falconstone confronted the unlicensed shop owner and warned him to move out or risk being shut down. When the tenant didn’t leave, Falconstone convinced a cop friend to set up an undercover buy with an underaged customer. After the cops raided the shop, the tenant split town.
Another hypothetical tactic that he described involves planting items in the vehicle of a target, something that momentarily crossed his mind concerning the celebrity stalker at the coffee shop. “When I confronted the guy in the parking lot, he was away from his vehicle and had the windows rolled down,” Falconstone told me after the fact with a conspiratorial smile. “I could easily have thrown something in the car that could have been real trouble for him.”
Barring that, Falconstone added, he could easily have slapped an expletive laden sticker over the man’s rear license plate which would have given the police probable cause if the man had elected to drive away before the cops arrived. “Just imagine this guy driving down the road and instead of his plates, the cops just see a sticker saying ‘F*ck the police’ or something,” he speculated, chuckling. “That’s all they’d need to pull him over.”
This conversation was in the back of my mind about a week after my first interview with Falconstone, when he called me on my cell phone to announce that he had just bumped into the stalker at another coffee shop in the general area.
According to Falconstone, he just happened to be drinking coffee at the location when the man walked up to him and asked if they didn’t know each other. “We sure do,” Falconstone said he replied, upon identifying himself. “And if you haven’t realized already, I’m always going to be one step ahead of you.”
Although it’s certainly possible that one of Falconstone’s sources had alerted him to the man’s general whereabouts, Falconstone insisted that the impromptu meeting was simply a coincidence. However, it struck me as more likely that Falconstone had somehow placed a tracker on the man’s car, although Falconstone would never admit to such a thing.
When I arrived at the coffee shop, two uniformed Santa Barbara police officers and a pair of plainclothes detectives were talking to the stalker, who was carrying a large cup of coffee that Falconstone had just purchased for him to allow police enough time to arrive on scene. For several minutes, the cops quietly and calmly spoke to the celebrity stalker, who seemed to be complaining about both Falconstone and the police following him. “This is a really small community,” I overheard the detective say at one point.
“Right now, they are probably trying to figure out what to do with him,” Falconstone told me as we watched the interview in progress. “Before I bumped into him at the coffee shop, he’d apparently already done something to piss somebody off, so they are asking him about that. But did he do something severe enough to arrest him?”
Apparently not. After 20 minutes or so, the cops left without arresting the man and this time, they even allowed him to drive off without so much as a search of his car.
Three Strikes and You’re Out
After that incident, Falconstone said he wouldn’t be surprised if his client’s determined stalker might finally give up, but this was not meant to be. However, this time, it was me who alerted Falconstone (who was out of town at the moment) to the stalker’s whereabouts, at yet a third coffee shop in town. I happened to be driving down Coast Village Road when I spotted the stalker once again being interviewed by a pair of police officers.
For a moment, I couldn’t believe it was actually the same guy, but there he was, wearing the same confused seeming expression on his face, and the same baseball cap, athletic shorts and sandals that he’d been wearing during his two prior interactions with the cops. After snapping a few photographs from my car and calling Falconstone about the sighting, I pulled over and took several more shots as the cops, who seemed completely fed up with the guy, placed him in handcuffs and pushed him headfirst into their SUV.
Montecito’s most determined recent celebrity stalker’s third interaction with the cops took place, according to my iPhone records, at exactly 12:40 pm on the afternoon of October 29, just two days before Halloween. According to Falconstone, after the cops arrested and released him that day, he hasn’t been seen since.
“There’s been no contact,” Falconstone told me a few weeks ago. “The cops told him if he showed up in town one more time they would arrest him, impound his vehicle and drive him to San Bernardino County where he has a misdemeanor warrant for stealing electricity. Maybe he’s finally left,” Falconstone surmised. “Maybe he’s driven down to San Diego, where it’s warmer. Or maybe he drove back east to be with his mom. Moms almost never give up on their kids. That’s a good thing, I guess.”